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Jewish World Review Sept. 22, 1999 /12 Tishrei, 5760

Dr. Laura

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It's time to bear arms -- I'M RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE of a big change of attitude about a very important subject. And I know a lot of my readers and listeners to my radio program may be shocked. But people who have known me over time know that I'm someone who evolves in public. That is, when I start changing my mind about something or discover new information or some truth about my own life or life in general, I'm usually pretty straightforward about the process with my colleagues and my fans.

The first event that caused me to rethink my position on this topic was the shootings in Atlanta, where a man went into two office buildings and gunned down total strangers, then killed himself in his car later that day. I thought about the difference it might have made -- lives saved instead of lost -- if someone in one of those offices had been armed. The murderer might well have been foiled in his reign of terror before so many innocent people died.

That thought caused me to remember a time several years ago when I felt completely safe in my hometown of Los Angeles. It was after the major earthquake in 1994, and the National Guard was everywhere. There they were, it seemed, on every corner -- uniformed, armed, ammunition slung across their chests, ready. As I recall, there was absolutely no crime in Los Angeles at that time -- no break-ins, no holdups, no car-jackings. Nada. The bad guys obviously didn't want to risk getting shot.

I went on the air then and said, "Gee, why can't these guys just stay here?" and everyone freaked out. Now, I knew then and know now that that's not what the National Guard is for, but it was nice to feel so secure for those few weeks.

In thinking about the difference an armed civilian or security guard might have made in Atlanta, I thought back to my trip to Israel this summer and how many people walking around, especially on the West Bank, were armed out of a genuine and persistent need to protect themselves. No one was shooting. There was no display of firepower or anything like that. It was just taken for granted.

I know that's a unique situation, because from its inception Israel has been under constant attack by neighboring countries as well as terrorists. So they have a demonstrable need for self-defense. We, on the other hand, are self-destructing. We don't need an external force. We are breeding our own evil here. Child killers, killer children, private militias, home-grown and imported terrorists, to say nothing of old-fashioned, garden variety psychopaths and criminals -- all armed and dangerous and now encouraged, educated in evil and joined in unholy conspiracy on the World Wide Web.

There are obviously lots and lots of reasons why our society -- once so revered and respected around the world -- is unraveling and degenerating. But one of them is the unbridled license of communication on the Internet. I hear from so many people about the shock and despair the Internet has brought into their homes.

The Internet is the most recent and most powerful tool to be commandeered by the sick evildoers in our midst. It spreads the virus of hate and germs of pathology like wildfire around the world, infecting more and more people, especially our neglected and vulnerable youth. Many of the most recent horrendous crimes have been committed by jerks, scum, low-lifes and dim bulbs who hang around the Internet because they have no life, fantasize about becoming heroes through hate, and are emboldened to act out by others in cyberspace who support them.

Even before the horror of the most recent attack on children in a Los Angeles Jewish center near my home, I was in the process of making up my mind to find a nice police officer or sheriff to teach me how to responsibly fire a gun. I can hardly believe I'm saying this, because I have been opposed to the idea that everyone should be free to bear arms. But the unpredictability of where danger strikes next, coupled with the frequency with which it happens, has led me to think that we "good guys" need to have more of the mentality of the beleaguered Israelis. And, of course, we need to have their attitude as well. No one is gun-happy over there. They don't show off, do stupid things.

I agree that everyone who carries a gun must be licensed and that the regulations should be very strict. In order to be allowed to carry a gun, I think we should have to pass a test to make sure we can take it apart, put it back together again, clean it, load it, unload it, etc. And we should have to pass a marksman's test to get the gun and periodic tests to be allowed to keep it.

To be perfectly honest, I haven't thought this all the way through. It's just that I'm getting more and more concerned about the direction in which our society is moving, and it's becoming clearer and clearer that we need protection from ourselves.

I know this shocks a whole lot of you. And I'm sorry.

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©1999, Universal Press Syndicate